Sunday 16 December 2018

From medals to mosquitos: What will happen in Rio?

Hardly a day has gone by in the build-up to the Games without another piece of bad news about Rio’s chaotic preparations. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Hardly a day has gone by in the build-up to the Games without another piece of bad news about Rio’s chaotic preparations. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Ben Rumsby

q) What is the latest on the Zika virus?

A) The Zika epidemic has arguably become the defining crisis of the Rio Olympics amid a wave of withdrawals and disagreement among experts about how much of a risk it will pose. The World Health Organisation has sought to play down the threat while a recent study carried out by researchers from the Yale School of Public Health calculated the numbers expected to contract the virus during the Games to be negligible. However, the birth defects Zika has been blamed for causing - underdeveloped brains and heads - means pregnant women are still being advised to stay away.

q) Will Brazil be ready for the Olympics?

A) Hardly a day has gone by in the build-up to the Games without another piece of bad news about Rio's chaotic preparations. Security is the organisers' biggest concern and arrests of individuals alleged to be planning acts of terrorism are cause for alarm. Crime - athletes have been mugged - and policing are other worries for visitors. Despite organisers claiming venues are "ready", pictures of last-minute construction suggests there is still work to be done before the Games get under way. Some competitors have refused to move into the athletes' village over plumbing and electrical issues, while major doubts remain over transport and water pollution in the bay area.

q) Will Brazil even have a president by the time the Games open and does that matter?

A) The political crisis to have engulfed Brazil has put the wave of problems to have hit its hosting of the Olympics in some perspective. Dilma Rousseff has been suspended as president since May, awaiting impeachment proceedings scheduled to take place after the Games. She and her predecessor Lula da Silva - who is also implicated in a corruption scandal - are set to boycott Friday's opening ceremony, which is like to attended by acting president Michel Temer. Rousseff, who was famously booed during the last World Cup, has branded the legal action against her as a "coup" but has insisted it will not affect the Olympics.

q) Are the top stars on course to compete - and is Usain Bolt's lack of competitive action a problem?

A) Rio represents the final realistic chance of Olympic glory for the likes of Bolt, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Bradley Wiggins, all of whom will be desperate to sign off with gold. It is becoming a cliche for Bolt to head into a major championships with doubts over his form or fitness but he makes a mockery of them every time. He is determined to complete what he calls the "triple-triple" of becoming the first person to win the 100 metres, 200m and 4x100m relay at three successive Olympics. The most high-profile withdrawals have been Roger Federer through injury and the world's top four golfers, citing Zika.

q) When will we know if Russian athletes will be allowed to compete?

A) The only thing we can say almost for certain at this stage is that there will be Russian athletes at the Games. The International Olympic Committee refused to issue a blanket ban over the state-sponsored doping by the nation, instead formulating strict criteria it mandated international federations to follow to weed out anyone who had ever been sanctioned for a doping offence and anyone subject to insufficient testing in the build-up to Rio. Including the near-blanket ban issued by the International Association of Athletics Federations, the number denied entry to the Games is more than 100 but the total to miss out will depend on an independent arbiter and how many athletes successfully appeal against their expulsions.

q) Will we be able to trust these Games in light of recent doping revelations?

A) The irony of the Russian doping scandal is that their athletes will be mistrusted more than ever, despite the scrutiny of them arguably making them less likely to cheat. Indeed, the recent focus on drugs in sport could make the Rio Olympics the cleanest ever. But that does not mean it will be drug-free. The results of retests from the Beijing and London Games show it may take eight years to judge just how dirty the latest edition has been.

q) Is there any enthusiasm for the new sports, golf and rugby sevens?

A) The build-up to golf's return after a 112-year absence could hardly have been more disastrous. The snub to the Games delivered by the world's best players, ostensibly over Zika, may have destroyed its hopes of being retained before the competition has even begun. The controversy over its reintegration meant it needed the event to be a hit and the IOC has warned that participation by the biggest stars will be one factor used to evaluate its status. Rugby sevens is a more worthy addition.

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